Photography by Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi

Welcome to Shangri-La. The Dhara Dhevi on the northern edge of the Thai city of Chiang Mai is no mere hote. More »

Photography by The Raleigh Hotel

A Miami landmark, The Raleigh first opened its doors in1940; it still exudes that old Miami charm. More »

Photography by Mosaic Palais Aziza and Spa

Ahh, can you hear the bubbling fountains? Can you smell the sweet jasmine? More »

Photography by Norbert Eisele-Hein / Outdoor-Archiv / Aurora Photos

Wanderlusters seeking paradise will be plenty pleased by this luxury resort in the Maldives. More »

Photo: Robin Bennefield

First Lady and style icon Jacqueline Kennedy found refuge horseback riding in Middleburg, VA, 50 years ago, and in the very place where she once rode, a stylish new retreat has arisen. This weekend, Salamander Resort & Spa opened its doors as the only new luxury destination and spa to open in the US in 2013.

Just an hour from the White House, beyond Beltway gridlock, and where northern Virginia’s Route 50 undulates past old Civil War markers and new wineries, Salamander Resort aims to make its mark as an escape for politics-weary Washingtonians and a destination for discerning luxury travelers.

Salamander is well on its way, with a bucolic location at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, grand country estate design, top-notch gastronomy and state-of-the art spa facilities. The 168-room resort is all the brainchild of Washington-area entrepreneur, Sheila C. Johnson, who co-founded Black Entertainment Television and executive produced the movie The Butler.

As it turns out, it’s nice to be inside Sheila Johnson’s brain, which appears to be filled with pastoral greens, creams and pale blues as displayed in the “Living Room,” an airy, elegant lounge space overlooking a 100,000-square-foot lush, sloping lawn.  Johnson’s personal style and even her personal items have made it into every aspect of the resort, from bronze statues of a proud equestrian and her own children in the Living Room, which happens to be modeled after her own living room to her nature photography lining seasonally-themed hallways and guestroom walls. Nearly 20 percent of the art throughout the resort is from her personal collection, including a 14-foot tapestry once owned by Napoleon.

Photo: Robin Bennefield
Bronze statue from Sheila Johnson’s personal collection.

Photo: Robin Bennefield
The Salamander stables.

Her passion for horses and equine pursuits are equally apparent at Salamander with a full-service equestrian center and horse trails, suites named for her daughter’s favorite horses, right down to stirrup-embroidered bed linens. These little details are almost as striking as the property itself.

Here are a few other things that struck this traveler during Salamander’s opening weekend:

 The Library

It sounds cliché but this really is the perfect place to curl up with a good book, and there are plenty for you to borrow — from aspirational biographies to gripping mysteries. The dark, supple leather chairs feel like a warm hug. I almost wished for cold weather to see this room with its fireplace blazing. There are also dark library-appropriate games like chess and backgammon.

Photo: Robin Bennefield

Harriman’s Virginia Piedmont Grill

When I ordered the BBQ’d Shrimp and Grits for brunch, the waiter smiled and said “good choice.” I always pay attention to server comments and selections, so I got my taste buds ready. They weren’t disappointed when the savory and mildly sweet shrimp, atop a creamy bed of grits, reached my mouth. Johnson has gotten Todd Gray, one of the best chefs in the DC area to lead the culinary charge at Salamander, and I’d say that was a good choice. The 3-course brunch with all-you-can-drink bacon-decorated Bloody Mary’s and mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice is a palate pleaser.

Photo: Robin Bennefield


Photo: Robin Bennefield

Salamander Spa

If there is a crown jewel at the Salamander Resort & Spa, it is the spa, which turns out to be Johnson’s favorite space at the resort, according to the its director of public relations, Matt Owen. A world-class destination spa has been at the center of Johnson’s vision for Salamander since 2002 and she delivered, with just one feature, actually 2: the heated stone Tepidarium chairs that cradle and deliver warmth along every inch of the spine. My sister and I made a circuit between the chairs, the gurgling vitality pool and an aromatic steam room with a eucalyptus steam that won’t quit. We ended with a citrus drench wrap made from honey, orange juice and Shea butter, feeling completely rejuvenated.

Photo: Robin Bennefield

Photo: Robin Bennefield


The Salamander Resort & Spa joins Johnson’s other highly-rated luxury properties, Innisbrook, Reunion and Hammock Beach resorts in Florida, and aims for the same 5-star ratings. But even with all the high-end pampering and luxe appointments, Salamander feels surprisingly homey and inclusive. It’s kid-friendly, with a collection of books and DVDs for kids in the library, and pet-friendly with water bowls strategically placed around the property for the traveling pooch.

The fall may bring even more amenities, like ziplines and a tree-top canopy tour of the 200 wooded acres on the property, along with what I’d come back for: treetop spa treatment rooms.

Photography by Marbella Club Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa

Perched on southern Spain’s sun-drenched Costa del Sol, Marbella has long been a vacation destination for the wealthy and glamorous. More »

Photography by Hotel Cap Rocat

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Photography by Hotel Fasano Las Piedras

Portland Head Light

Portland, Maine: This quaint, coastal town will win your heart over with its charm and history. The endless restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques will have you coming back for more.
Photo credit: Jessica Menk



West End Inn

West End Inn
146 Pine Street
Portland, ME 04102

This modern, chic B&B is located in the West End neighborhood of Portland. The historic, tree-lined streets compliment the beauty of this area. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the waterfront. The breakfast is plentiful, fresh and well thought out. You’ll want to get the Maine blueberry pancakes … at least once.



Jays Lobster House

J’s Oyster
5 Portland Pier
Portland, ME 04101

Skip the touristy lobster spots and hang with the locals. Get the lobster roll sandwich (a Maine staple). Trust me, you won’t regret it. Your best bet is to grab a seat outside with a view of the wharf. (pictured to the right)

Gorgeous Gelato
Gorgeous Gelato
434 Fore Street
Portland, ME 04101

It’s a little taste of Italy in the heart of Old Port. I’ve never had gelato this fabulous before. You can taste the fresh ingredients. My top 3 flavors: mango, tiramisu and hazelnut. (pictured to the right)

Flatbread Company

72 Commercial Street, Ste 5
Portland, ME 04101

Flatbread Company is a great place to enjoy the weather while sipping on a local craft beer. Their artistry in organic ingredients create tasty pizzas. The atmosphere is quaint, and reflects the culture. They also have a love for animals, so dogs are welcome in their outside area



K Collette

K Colette
100 Commercial Street
Portland, ME 04101

This boutique is filled with artfully selected housewares from lush Egyptian cotton bedding to rustic and nautical vintage finds. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to wander around and get inspired. (pictured to the right)

Merchant Co. Handmade Vintage Goods

656 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101

On the walk from the West End side of town, stop at The Merchant Company for unique handmade items. This adorable store showcases local items such as invitations, housewares, jewelry and more! Located in the Arts District.


Novare Res Bier Café
4 Canal Plaza
Portland, ME 04101

This bar is a must-find for craft beer seekers in downtown Portland. They have extensive offerings of fairly priced drafts and bottles. Their bartenders are knowledgeable and will happily steer you toward something you’ll enjoy. It’s a little tricky to find, but ask around and don’t give up your quest! With their wine menu and food offerings they aim to please everyone, including those who aren’t hopheads and beer geeks.

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Barcelona is Spain’s coolest and most modern city. Tourists pour from every corner of the world to experience the town’s vibrant nightlife, excellent cuisine, beautiful Gothic and one-of-a-kind Modernist architecture, and cutting-edge design scene. This — and the great Mediterranean climate — means you might find crowds wherever you go, but it’ll be worth it for sites like the bizarre Sagrada Familia cathedral, world-class MACBA museum, hopping Barri Gotic neighborhood, and unusual Parc Guell. Plus, the Catalonia capital is arguably one of the top party destinations in Spain (along with Madrid and Ibiza Island).

The luxurious Majestic Hotel & Spa has a prime location, steps from designer shops and Gaudi monuments. All rooms are spacious with modern bathrooms; suites offer views over Passeig de Gracia, and some have private terraces and 24-hour personalized service. Another luxury option, which nonetheless offers a solid value, is Hotel Icaria Barcelona. It doesn’t boast the location of the Majestic Hotel, but it offers a large, sunny fitness center, a rooftop pool, and stylish rooms. Acevi Villarroel, which also often offers reasonable rates, has family-friendly features such as family-size suites, a breakfast buffet, and a quiet location in a residential neighborhood.

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